In my last update, I commented that I wasn’t getting the results I wanted from the Relaxation Protocol, and as a result, wasn’t sure what to do next. Since I knew that we had an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist, I decided to hold off on the protocol until I could consult with her. We decided that I should start over with the protocol.
So I did. But I’m still not happy with how Maisy’s doing. Here’s a video of Maisy and I doing Day 1:
Although Maisy did much better this time than when we started the protocol at the end of August, she still isn’t really relaxing. In the video, you’ll notice that while she remains in a down, she’s in more of an alert down, crouched and ready for action. She maintains eye contact for the majority of the time. Her chin never touches the floor.
That said, there are a few moments where she relaxes: she shifts on to her hip at 2:45, and towards the end, her gaze isn’t as focused on me. Unfortunately, I missed those rewardable moments because I was so focused on what I was supposed to be doing (I guess I’m not so good at multi-tasking). I suppose this is the beauty of video, though; it’s really helped me see where I could do a better job with the protocol.
As a result, I’ve decided that we’re going to move back to “Day Zero.” Every night, I’ll just sit next to Maisy on her mat for 3 to 5 minutes, and reward for increased relaxation. I won’t miss things like rolling on her hip or reduced eye contact because all I will be doing is sitting there. I’ll use Dr. Duxbury’s suggestions to slow down and feed in position.
Since we do mat work like this in my reactive dog class, this should be familiar to Maisy, and I expect that she’ll assume the “flat dog” position pretty quickly. Once she can remain flat on her side for the entire time, I should be able to stretch out the amount of time between treats fairly easily.
The next step is for me to move from a sitting position to a standing one. This will completely change the picture for her- I’ve always sat next to her while doing mat work, and I’m usually on the floor, at that. In addition to increasing my rate of reinforcement, I’ll make the transition to standing a fairly gradual one: first, I’ll sit in a chair, then I’ll kneel in front of her, and then I’ll try standing.
Maisy’s medication should be kicking in by then, too, so I think that I’ll begin to see some true relaxation instead of “operant relaxation.” Speaking of medication... Maisy has taken six half-doses of her paroxetine so far. Although it is probably too early for the medication to be doing much, she does seem slightly calmer around the house. Yesterday she actually took a nap! It's possible this is a side-effect (lethargy is a common side-effect of paroxetine), but it's encouraging either way.